Joe Reed enters the 2020 NFL season without a true position. The former Virginia star might best be described as an offensive weapon.
The Los Angeles Chargers drafted Reed to add versatility to the roster. Reed, who plays running back, wide receiver and kick returner, provides exactly that.
Despite no preseason games this year due to COVID-19, the Chargers have liked what they’ve seen from the dynamic former UVa standout during preseason camp.
“When I watch Joe on film, it reminds me a little bit of Percy Harvin,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. “Not quite as explosive as Percy, but a guy that can do multiple things. He can line up at receiver, line up in the backfield. He’s a kick returner. We can use Joe in multiple ways, but right now at that position at receiver and in the backfield, there’s a lot of good competition going on there, so Joe’s got his work cut out for him.”
Competition is stiff with each NFL team needing to cut its roster down to 53 players by Saturday. Luckily for Reed, his status as a drafted rookie with position versatility plants him firmly within the 53-man roster for Los Angeles. He’s likely to not only make the roster, but to also play on Sundays.
Chargers special teams coach George Stewart loves Reed’s physical ability at kick returner. While Stewart admits most NFL kickers knock the ball through the end zone, Reed offers the ability to turn limited kick returns into big plays.
“He has that physical strength, he has great vision and he has big-time speed,” Stewart said. “Those three things will give him an opportunity to be successful.”
Stewart says after seeing Reed for the first time, he was pleasantly surprised at his size. He’s built bigger than most kickoff returners, which helps him run through arm tackles.
Bringing down Reed proved challenging for collegiate players. During his time at Virginia, Reed became the only player in FBS history to log 2,700 kickoff return yards with an average return of at least 28 yards.
He’s one of just 10 FBS players to reach 3,000 career kickoff return yards.
He finished his illustrious UVa career with five kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Reed won’t be the only UVa player in the mix to return kickoffs for Los Angeles. Darius Jennings, who averaged 31.7 yards per kickoff return for Tennessee in 2018, may see time at the position as he battles for a roster spot at receiver and on special teams.
Jennings is far from a lock to make the 53-man roster, and he may sweat it out Saturday waiting for official word. If he does land on the roster, expect special teams to be a key reason why.
“I’m not putting everything on Joe Reed, but he had great success at Virginia and they’re bringing him into the fold along with Darius Jennings, who I’ve seen personally return kickoffs in this league for touchdowns,” Stewart said.
For Reed, position versatility remains his strength. Few players in the league perform productively at multiple offensive positions. The players capable of making an impact as receivers, runners and returners typically earn roster spots and demand touches within offensive schemes.
Position versatility makes Reed an exciting NFL prospect and it also means he needs to split time working with different position groups. Los Angeles gives Reed time at running back, wide receiver and kickoff returner.
“That’s nothing new for me,” Reed said. “My whole career from high school to college up until now I’ve been about to bounce around and play different positions.”
Without preseason games, Reed’s running back skills may be a bit shaky entering the season. He says it’s different to practice at running back, and learning pass protections is one of his goals as he aims to provide additional depth in the backfield.
At wide receiver, Reed wants to read defenses better. He’s noticed coverages changing after the snap, which differs a bit in complexity from the collegiate level.
No preseason games makes the NFL adjustment slightly more challenging ahead of Los Angeles’ season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 13.
Regardless of the obstacles facing Reed, he’s a sure bet to make the team’s 53-man roster, and he’s stoked to fulfill his aspiration of playing in the NFL.
“Putting on this uniform is definitely a dream come true,” Reed said. “Growing up, I just wanted to play professional ball. Coming home after church and watching football and now finally being able to put this uniform on today, especially on Sunday and being able to come out here and compete, just loving the speed of the game and the physicality. We’ve been waiting a long time, especially this year it seems like this offseason has been going on forever so just having a chance to come out here and compete with my teammates has been a true blessing.”
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